20 Best Things to Do in Ocala, Florida
By VacationIdea Staff on March 5, 2023 - Updated
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Every year, the state of Florida is a top vacation destination for travelers in the United States. They flock to the beautiful beaches that surround three sides of the state. Though it is located away from the coastline, central Florida is a destination that should not be overlooked. The city of Ocala in Marion County contains many interesting sights and offers a number of experiences for those visiting the Sunshine State, including lakes, and great restaurants.
1. Places to Visit: Alexander Springs, Ocala
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Central Florida is home to the Ocala National Forest, a large sand scrub pine forest filled with natural hot springs. Located in the forest, Alexander Springs Recreational Area is a beautiful fresh water spring that is easily accessible to tourists.
Visitors to the area can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, or scuba diving in the turquoise waters that stay at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit. There are picnic areas and paved walking trails around the spring and a campground with spaces for tents and RV’s. Fishing, canoeing, and off-road ATV riding are also available in the area.
County Road 445 Altoona, FL 32702, Phone: 352-669-3522
2. Appleton Museum of Art, Ocala
© Appleton Museum of Art
Located on the campus of the College of Central Florida, the Appleton Museum of Art is one of the premiere destinations for fine art in Florida. The museum consists of five galleries and an auditorium surrounding a beautifully landscaped courtyard.
An expansive collection of European art, artifacts, and design is on display year-round. Various travelling exhibits are displayed throughout the year. The museum also hosts special classes, lectures, art shows, and competitions for the enjoyment and enrichment of the public.
4333 E. Silver Springs Blvd. Ocala, FL 34470, Phone: 352-291-4455
3. Places to Visit: Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, Ocala
© Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing
“Big Daddy” Don Garlits is regarded as the father of drag racing. During his forty year career, he racked up 144 national event titles and seventeen world championships. Garlits designed and fabricated the cars he raced, and today, those cars can be seen at his museum in Ocala.
The museum contains a collection of Don’s famous dragsters, as well as other classic cars, racing memorabilia, and a gift shop. Don and his wife Pat live next door, so visitors may catch a glimpse of Big Daddy outside mowing the grass.
13700 SW 16th Ave Ocala, FL 34473, Phone: 352-245-8661
4. Kids Activities Near Me: Gypsy Gold Horse Farm, Ocala, Florida
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In 1995 during a trip to England, the stunning black and white horses of an English farm fascinated Dennis and Cindy Thompson. They exported sixteen of them back to Florida and worked to have the Gypsy Vanner breed officially recognized. Today, Dennis breeds and sells these beautiful horses on his Ocala farm.
Every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday morning at 10 a.m., visitors can take a walking tour of the farm and have an up-close and personal experience with this unusual breed. Private group tours are also available and must be booked in advance.
12501 SW 8th Ave Ocala, FL 34473, Phone: 866-497-7982
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5. Things to Do Near Me: Juniper Prairie Wilderness Area, Ocala
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The 14,000-acre Juniper Prairie Wilderness Area is one of four wilderness areas in the Ocala National Forest. It is a fine example of untouched sand pine scrub forest with no roads or motor vehicle access.
Walking trails cross the area, providing visitors with access to several habitats, including marsh, hardwood swamp, grass prairie, and pine flatwoods. More information about the various habitats can be found in the on-sight interpretive center. Guests can also paddle across the wetlands in canoes, with rentals available at nearby Juniper Springs. Tent camping is available at Juniper Prairie. Campers must bring their own drinking water.
6. Things to Do in Ocala, FL: Ocala Civic Theatre
© Ocala Civic Theatre
Plays, musicals, concerts, and more can be found at the Ocala Civic Theatre. The theatre is a cultural hub for the theatre arts in central Florida. They stage twelve productions per year, and host touring productions.
The theatre also offers educational classes and workshops for children from ages 4 to 18 as well as continuing education for adult students. Topics covered include movement, improvisation, musical performance, and the technical aspects of staging a theatre production. Tickets can be purchased online, by phone, or at the theatre box office. Season passes are also available.
4337 E. Silver Springs Blvd Ocala, FL 34470, Phone: 352-236-2274
7. What to Do Near Me: La Cuisine French Restaurant, Ocala
© La Cuisine French Restaurant
Traditional French cuisine, right in the heart of Florida! La Cuisine serves French favorites such as escargot, French onion soup, duck a l’orange, and ratatouille, prepared in the traditional style with fresh, local ingredients when possible.
Patrice Perron, a native of Lyon, France who trained at some of the finest restaurants in the country established the restaurant in 2009. La Cuisine has won four Golden Spoon awards and has been featured on The Travel Channel.
48 SW 1st Ave Ocala, FL 34471, Phone: 352-433-2570
8. Kids Activities Near Me: Belleview-Santos Trail, Ocala, Florida
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Central Florida is home to a variety of landscapes and ecosystems, including scrub pine forest and cypress swamps. The Belleview-Santos trail is a great place for visitors to view the Florida wilderness up close. This 4 ½ mile loop trail is located outside of Ocala.
There are restrooms, picnic tables, and a paved parking lot at the trailhead. Hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders are all allowed to use this trail. Visitors who may want to stay the night or explore longer hikes can take advantage of the Santos campsite located nearby.
9. Kids Activities Near Me: Sholom Park, Ocala, FL
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Sholom Park is a peaceful retreat located in Ocala, Florida, where guests can come to reflect and seek tranquility and peace. The 44-acre park grounds were designed with a mix of native plants and carefully chosen trees, shrubs, and perennials.
The park is made up of eleven beautifully landscaped areas, including a formal garden, an azalea trail, a labyrinth, and a ginger garden. Paved walkways cross the park and lead guests from one area to the next. There is no fee for admission to Sholom Park, which is open daily, but donations are accepted to provide for park maintenance.
7110 SW 80TH Ave Ocala, FL 34481
10. Things to Do Near Me: Silver River Museum, Ocala, Florida
© Silver River Museum
The Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center is an educational program maintained by the Marion County school system. The museum exists to teach children about the natural history and ecology of Florida and its native peoples.
Exhibits showcase the plant and animal life of Florida, the state’s various ecosystems, insects, reptiles, and the history and lifestyle of the Seminole Indians. During the week, the museum is closed to the public for the use of various school groups. On the weekend, the public can visit the museum for a small admission fee. Children under six are admitted free of charge.
1445 NE 58th Ave Ocala, FL 34470, Phone: 352-236-5401
11. Things to Do in Ocala, FL: Silver Springs State Park
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Silver Springs State Park is a favorite outdoor destination for both tourists and central Florida locals. The park is named for its crystal clear natural spring, which flows into the Silver River.
Guests to the park can walk on paved trails around the spring through the surrounding woods or take a glass-bottomed boat ride and view underwater wildlife from their seats. Travelers are also able to bring their own canoes or kayaks and explore the river. The park also contains picnic areas, a museum and educational center, and a campground with both campsites and cabins available for rental.
12. Things to Do Near Me: Fort King National Historic Landmark, Ocala
© Fort King National Historic Landmark
You can come and learn all about the complicated history of Florida’s early days at the Fort King National Historic Landmark. Fort King was one of many frontier forts which were built during the lengthy Seminole War. When you visit the 40-acre site today you will see an exact replica of the original Fort King (1827). The site includes a Visitor’s Center where you can watch an introductory video and view some of the historic artifacts which have been unearthed on the site. There is also a Heritage Garden to explore and an interpretive trail which winds its way down through a pleasant wooded ravine with picnic tables.
Fort King National Historic Landmark, 3925 E. Fort King Street, Ocala, FL 34470,
352 368 5517
13. Things to Do in Ocala, Florida: Discovery Center
© Discovery Center
Since 1997, the Discovery Center has been offering the Ocala community a fun way to learn all about science. Your children can have hours of fun at this inter-active, hands-on center which is conveniently located in the heart of Ocala’s arts and culture district. The center boasts 2 floors of fun discoveries including a small reptile collection called the Critter Collection, several learning laboratories for children, exhibitions and regular pop-up activities. The Ready, Set, Go exhibit teaches children all about transportation in a fun and easy to understand way. Younger visitors (2-4) can join in the Sing-a-long-Science activity on Saturday afternoons.
Discovery Center, 701 NE Sanchez Avenue, Ocala, FL 34471, 352 401 3900
14. Things to Do Near Me: The Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park, Ocala
© The Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park
Offering visitors a range of immersive adventures in one of the most beautiful spots in Florida, The Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park will blow you away with their unique facilities. Your zip line experience is beyond thrilling at the Canyons, where there are 2 separate canyons and 4 lakes to admire from your lofty aerial perspective. Depending on how daring you are feeling, you can choose between 3 different tours. Those who prefer to keep their feet firmly on the ground can enjoy a host of other fun activities including horse-back tours, gem mining or kayaking through the canyon. The Canyons also host hiking, fossil hunting and other activities from time to time.
The Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park, 8045 NW Gainesville Road, Ocala, FL 34475, 352 351 9477
15. Things to Do in Ocala, Florida: Petting Zoo Ocala
© Petting Zoo Ocala
Children of all ages will enjoy a visit to the Petting Zoo in Ocala, where they will be able to meet and interact with a wide range of farm animals and exotic pets, most of which have been rescued. The line-up of residents at the sanctuary include mammals like Bongo, a squirrel monkey, Terry the ring-tailed lemur and many other domestic and exotic animals like camels, llamas, cattle, sheep, pigs and goats and even a wallaby. There are also plenty of friendly birds and a few reptiles to admire. If you think your children will enjoy an up-close animal encounter you should visit on weekends.
Petting Zoo Ocala, 11150 W. Hwy 40, Ocala, FL 34482, 352 237 3527
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16. Things to Do in Ocala, Florida: Reilly Arts Center
© Reilly Arts Center
The Reilly Arts Center is located in Tuscawilla Park, just a few miles from the Ocala art and culture district. The center can accommodate up to 700 people and boasts state-of-the-art equipment and acoustics, following a massive renovation of the original City Auditorium, which first opened to the public in 1940. Today the Reilly Center is home to the Ocala Symphony Orchestra, but also stages a wide range of other musical concerts and productions including tributes to several big-name bands like the Eagles, Pink Floyd and Def Leppard. You can check their website to see what’s on and book your tickets online.
Reilly Arts Center, 500 NE 9th Street, Ocala, FL 34470, 352 351 1606
17. Things to Do in Ocala, Florida: The Ocala Escape
© The Ocala Escape
Come and find out if you and your friends or family has what it takes to beat the clock and complete the Ocala Escape. First you will need to choose your scenario and book your chosen room. Ocala Escape presents a variety of realistic escape themes for escapees of all ages. You can start off with the Wolf Creek Mine escape which is ideal for 2 to 4 players and not too difficult, or pit your wits against the terrifying Cabin in the Woods, which promises to be a daunting task. Larger groups of up to 8 can get together in Mr. Elegoo’s Enchanted Emporium. Whichever theme you choose, you will have just 60 minutes to solve a series of riddles and puzzles and make your escape.
The Ocala Escape, 4901 E. Silver Springs Blvd, Ocala, FL 34470, 352 448 6976
18. Things to Do in Ocala, Florida: The Mojo Grill and Catering Company
Mojo’s is the brain-child of long-time chef and restaurateur Rondo Fernandez, who brings a fresh new take on combining great vibes, good music and fabulous food to get your mojo flowing. The Mojo Grill believes that music feeds the soul; your meal will be accompanied by laid back blues music to set the scene. To feed the body, Mojo Grill offers a selection of home-style Cajun and Cuban cuisine designed to send your taste buds to heaven. Just a few of the most popular dishes on the menu include their Jammin Jambalaya, Rondo’s famous Cuban Pork Dinner and a selection of tacos, quesadillas and fajitas.
The Mojo Grill, 2015 SW 17th Street, Ocala, FL 34471, 352 369 6656
19. Things to Do in Ocala, Florida: Harry's Seafood Bar and Grill
Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grill has been around since 1987 and has built up a well-deserved reputation for serving excellent southern, Creole and Cajun cuisine using the freshest local fish and seafood. While the inspiration and the recipes go back a long way, Harry’s cuisine offers a fresh and innovative twist to many of your old favorite classics like Shrimp and Grits.
Appetizers include Boudin Balls, Fried Green Tomatoes and a mouth-watering Louisiana Fondeaux. There are also hearty main-course salads and a great selection of fish and seafood entrees as well as a handful of chicken and meat dishes for non-pescatarians.
Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grill, 24 SE 1st Avenue, Ocala, FL 34471, 352 840-0900